Caught by the River

The River Ure

7th June 2013

Early spring river

The usual pile of bills hits the mat on this dour day of gunmetal skies, drizzle damp pavements and hissing traffic. Ok – the winter has been a good one with some proper snow and a few days so dazzlingly clear and crisp as to make the heart sing, but even so, there comes a time when you long for the sun’s embracing warmth and the lengthening days of Spring, so the handwritten white envelope amongst the gloomy brown is like a snowdrop on a muddy verge. Sliding my finger under the envelope’s flap I’m cautiously optimistic that its contents will be uplifting – an invitation say, or better still, a cheque. I say cautiously because my accountant has the devious habit of putting his frighteningly large bills in similarly innocent looking sleeves, thus lulling me into opening them at wholly inappropriate times, like at the weekend………. or during the week. I once opened one on the morning we were heading off to Devon for a few days break, nearly ruining the whole damned trip! But today fate is kind, for out of the envelope flutter three unassuming rectangles of buff card – membership and guest tickets for my fly fishing club on the Ure. The sun breaks through the gloom, birds begin to sing and I am transported to a glittering riffle below Kilgram Bridge where many a wild Brown Trout has had the grace (or more likely the lack of wit) to suck down my fly; it is three weeks to the start of the season.

By mid April the relentless east wind that has battered and chilled the Dales for weeks, finally gives way to the kinder south westerlies and the temperature soars to a sweltering 12 degrees. On a sunny, blustery morning, along with paints, brushes, drawing boards and the rest of the paraphernalia I habitually cart about with me, I collect together my rods and the captivating trappings of the fly fisherman. Everything gets bundled into the back of my tatty old estate car and I head river-wards. The season seems to have changed overnight – the hedgerow shyly decked in its pale chiffon green and Celandines freckle the verges with Lemon Yellow.

Soon I catch sight of the river: just a glimpse through the trees but it’s enough to sow the seeds of doubt: is it running high? I roll slowly over Kilgram bridge craning my neck to see over the parapet and the awful truth hits me – not only is it running high and fast but it is the colour of toffee, if it’s fishable at all, I know it is way beyond my capabilities; it must have been lashing down on the pennines. Half way through April and I haven’t cast a line yet! I park at Squirrel Bank, open the boot and trying not to look at my fishing kit, gather my stuff together and wander off towards the river dreaming of what might have been, and a curlew sympathises.

Any sense of gloom though, is soon washed away by the glittering notes of the first Skylark of the season and as I wander downhill towards the river I am surrounded by the insistent life of hundreds of new lambs and their mothers. White cumulus scud across a cobalt dome of sky and the scent of the sheep and the land rise up in a heady, life affirming exhalation. This is a healing place: even on days of deepest melancholia and despondency it has the power to soothe the mind and lift the spirit.

Wandering on, a pair of Sandpipers burst from the bank at my feet and snap low over the water, a centrifuge of Sandmartins whirl overhead and somewhere distant a tractor snorts into life. I find a spot sheltered from the wind and watch the river turn from brown to flashing silver as the fresh sun jags its light between the clouds. I knock off a couple of watercolours but they don’t seem to capture the flourish and dash of the day so I switch to acrylic and begin scumbling and scratching away with fingers and nails, rags and sticks. The paint is flicked, thrown and spattered, and across the river a meadow lights like a jewel; I strike in two thumb smears of heightened Emerald and watch the light spread to the budding trees. I scrape and scratch some more and let the running paint delineate trunk and branch. Almost unnoticed a picture emerges.

Sitting back with a cheese and pickle sandwich and a bottle of tap water I decide what changes to make to bring the picture to its conclusion – these are delicate moments of musings and fine tunings. In the end as often happens, I do nothing: paintings draw to their own consummation and my role is to be astute enough to realise when this happens and not faff with the thing – a good painting being but a stroke away from a dog’s dinner.

Later, driving back over Kilgram bridge, I can see that the river level has dropped; its chocolate bubble and swirl diminished and once again my thoughts drift from palette and brush to rod and line: tomorrow is another day.

David is a professional artist working largely in the north of England, Scotland & Ireland. The River Ure Project will continue throughout 2013 culminating in a touring exhibition and a book.